LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 07: Mickey McConnell #32 of the Saint Mary's Gaels shoots in front of Marquise Carter #2 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs during the championship game of the Zappos.com West Coast Conference Basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena March 7, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
For the first time in many years, the Bay Area isn't represented in the NCAA Tournament. Besides the always-fun-to-blame East Coast bias, what went wrong?
St. Mary's getting left out of the NCAA Tournament ranked as a mildly important story around here, and caused barely a blip anywhere else. That's nothing new. Teams in the West Coast Conference generally have to prove their superiority over Gonzaga several times over a season -- especially in the WCC Tournament -- to get any national love. But here's the problem: St. Mary's was the best team in the entire region. At No. 46 in the RPI, St. Mary's is the only Bay Area squad in the top 75 besides Oakland and Belmont (Cal's No. 76 ... next up is San Francisco at No. 120, yeesh).
Wait, Oakland isn't in the East Bay? And Belmont isn't in the peninsula next to San Mateo and San Carlos? And the Notre Dame that's in Belmont doesn't have a Golden Dome or Touchdown Jesus? Live and learn...
I grew up watching Jason Kidd, Lamond Murray, Brevin Knight, Adam Keefe, Todd Lichti, and a host of other good-to-great college players. They were followed by guys like Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Casey Jacobsen, Mark Madsen, Leon Powe and others who always seemed to keep both Bay Area Pac-10 schools in the mix.
In the smaller, non-BCS conferences, St. Mary's is a lot better than what they were a decade ago, but don't have the national cache (or the non-conference wins most years) to be a big player on the national scene. USF is better than they've been in a long time, but that's not saying much. San Jose State has Adrian Oliver scoring ridiculous amounts of points and not much more.
It's a sad sight to look at a bracket where the closest team in the Tournament to us is in Santa Barbara. And at least for Cal and Stanford, things don't look to get a whole lot better in a conference where Arizona and Washington are positioning themselves to continue their run as the best two squads, with Oregon and their inexhaustible supply of Nike cash on the rise. According to Rivals, Stanford's incoming recruiting class only rated 6th in the Pac-10. Even worse, Rivals ranked the Golden Bears' recruits as the worst group in the conference -- kind of alarming when you consider Mike Montgomery was supposed to make the program a consistent contender for the conference crown.
Why are Bay Area teams having so much trouble enticing the best players to come here (besides the Australian pipeline to St. Mary's)? It's not like scholarship athletes have to worry about high real estate prices, and there's plenty more to do around here than in places like Kansas or Kentucky. Part of the problem could be the lack of a national television deal. You can watch pretty much every Big East team play a half dozen times per year or more, no matter where you live, and that's hardly the case for any of the schools on the west coast. A point Rivals brought up is that the Pac-10 in general isn't holding onto the best players from California, with only four of the eight players in their most recent top 150 going to Pac-10 schools -- and they all went to Arizona or Oregon.
The last reason why the Bay Area squads find themselves lacking may only be found by looking in the mirror. For all the great pro fans that exist for the Giants, A's, 49ers, Raiders, Warriors and Sharks, college sports go relatively ignored around here. This hardly affects basketball alone; some of the football crowds for Stanford's historic 2010 campaign were downright embarrassing. Great players want to go where they'll get playing time and exposure. They also want a great college experience, which usually means being considered as royalty by the student body and surrounding area. And with the talent in college basketball spread among more schools and conferences than ever before, many of them places where college hoopsters are some of the biggest celebs around, there are many more enticing options out there. At least we still have brackets to pay attention to, like (self-promotion alert) the the prize-filled (and free) BASG March Madness Challenge!
Home Sweet Home
- It took 8 three-pointers from Dorell Wright and 21 as a team, but the Warriors had perhaps their best win of the season over Orlando when they came back from down 21 to beat the Magic 123-120 in their first game back at Oracle after a disappointing 2-5 road trip.
- The Warriors followed that up with their easiest win of the year, a 100-77 revenge victory over Minnesota where David Lee took pride in helping end Kevin Love's double-double streak. Anthony Randolph scored 8 points, grabbed a couple boards and made several mental errors in 20 minutes for the T-Wolves. I don't think I've ever been more wrong on a player than I was on Ant. Either nobody taught him how to play correctly, or he just never cared enough to learn.
- Then Monday night the Warriors put up one of their worst defensive efforts of the season in a 129-119 loss to the Sacramento Kings, who were led by Marcus Thornton and his 42(!) points. Al Thornton looked good in garbage time for the Warriors, while Warriors fans are left to wonder how Acie Law could have been in there for 8 seconds longer than Stephen Curry (on Curry's birthday, no less), or why when the Kings had hit 100 points with 2 minutes left in the third quarter, the best defensive player on the team (Ekpe Udoh) had only played 7 minutes.
- Andrew Bailey left Monday's game with what looked like "major pain in his twice-surgically repaired right elbow." Good thing they signed Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour, along with incumbent relievers like Michael Wuertz, Craig Breslow and Brad Ziegler. Still, this is terrible news for a team that has suffered a lot of bad luck with injuries in recent years, even for a team that admittedly takes risks on injury-prone players.
- Matt Cain pitched three good innings on Monday for the Giants, and (so far) his sore elbow has shown no ill-effects.
- The Giants have quite an interesting conundrum in regards to what to do with their bench. Travis Ishikawa is one of the more patient hitters on the team, but he's fairly slow and with Brandon Belt coming up any month the Giants don't need an extra first baseman. Nate Schierholtz has had a good spring and has the best arm on the team. Then there's also the concern that the Giants are a little questionable in terms of depth in the middle infield. Aaron Rowand supposedly isn't comfortable playing a corner outfield spot and he hasn't hit well in years. And as Grant Brisbee pointed out, Rowand is the definition of a "sunk cost," much like Dave Roberts a few years ago. Might be time to say goodbye to the guy with perhaps the strangest batting stance in the game.
- The Sharks look rather comfortable as the No. 3 seed at this point, 3 points ahead of the Kings. There's a decent shot the Sharks face the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs, which would be extremely interesting considering the Sharks got hot largely because of Chicago's goalie from last year.
- The NFL is in lockout mode. Yawn. We'll talk about the draft next week.